Even before he approached Westminster, he could hear the protest chants, the cheering, the megaphones. His stomach prickled with excitement and adrenaline bubbled inside him. As he turned the corner, the crowd came into view. Many people were gathered, but not as many as he’d expected and he felt a little disappointed. He strolled between the stalls and came to a stop before a woman shouting into a loudspeaker.
“The Phoenix Project is an affront to humanity! Civilisation is supposed to progress, not regress, and this is a clear step backwards. We cannot push our problems under the rug and kill the people we disagree with.”
The crowd clapped and cheered. Some waved their signs: “Vote NO to the Phoenix Project”; “End the gladiatorial slaughter”; “Respect life—vote NO to Phoenix.” Raven walked on and passed a table, plastered with leaflets and posters showing the bodies of young people lying dead on the floor of boxing rings. He looked away, feeling a lump in his throat. No matter how many times he saw the images, they still had a heavy impact on him, his heart churning with revulsion and sympathy.
He’d lied to his colleagues today and told them he had a doctor’s appointment. Not only would they have denied him the time off, but they wouldn’t have stopped harassing him about it either. They would have scorned and mocked him, told him stories of horrific crimes and the good work the Phoenix Project did in bringing justice to criminals. It made him sick. Sometimes it felt like he was the only one who saw the system for what it was—an uncivilised bloodbath.
He continued to walk around the large grassy area, thrilled with everything he saw. At the far side of the field, a man was barking his opinions to a small crowd.
“What kind of a nation is this, that we can allow such barbaric displays of our government’s machismo? That’s all this is. The government is afraid that it will look weak in the face of the superpowers. For the past decade, police, politicians, the public, everybody has cowered in the face of violent crime and terrorism. We should have solved this by trying to understand the criminal, the terrorist. And what did our government do? They became worse than them. Sure, they were frightened, we all were. We had come to a point where the threat of terrorism haunted us every day. People were too afraid to use public transport for fear of attack. Something had to be done. Prisons were too soft, too comfortable. Why should the criminals be treated better than the victims? It was no real deterrent. And I’m sure we all acknowledge that a change of system was desperately needed. But this? It’s disgusting. When did we stop seeing human life as sacred? Every person has a right to life, even criminals. Ours has become a throw-away culture, and that is the way our government is dealing with our issues. Cast away the problems. Kill the troublemakers. As if once you commit a crime, you forgo your right to life. It isn’t that simple. People deserve a second chance to make amends for their wrongdoings.”
The crowd cheered and Raven clapped with enthusiasm, before moving to another speaker.
“Religion is not at fault here. As Christians, we stayed true to our faith, to the word of God. We were helping others. After all, in the face of doom we needed people to listen, to acknowledge that when facing the decline of morality we needed to beg for salvation. To lay ourselves at the feet of the Lord and say, ‘I’m sorry.’ But the world wouldn’t listen. They thought they knew better. Of course we’re not advocating terrorist action, but in some situations a bold statement is needed to make people hear us. This is NOT religion’s fault, this is man’s failing. Man’s inability to follow the Lord. Man’s arrogance. We deserved this. And all we can do now is to pray, to beg the Lord for salvation. Hope is not lost yet. We are all God’s children. Let us pray for those in Salverford.”
Raven frowned. They all hated the Phoenix Project, but religion? That was taking things a bit far. One or two people prayed with her, but most people kept a wide berth. Religion was too taboo. When the terrorism had started with the tube station bombings and the execution of journalists, the government had blamed the religious groups themselves and passed the first law against freedom of expression. No religion should be allowed to preach their values outside of their designated places of worship. It was the first step in curbing their influence.
People reacted with uproar and riots raged across the country for weeks, but with the steady stream of propaganda in newspapers and across every TV station, the public began to feed off the exaggeration and the fear-mongering. Within a year or two, they started to fear and hate religion itself. When a gunman walked down the street, firing indiscriminately and shouting about their god, some people followed the tabloid press and blamed the entire religion, not that individual.
It wasn’t long before attacks on churches, mosques and synagogues became commonplace, and preachers and clergymen were forced out of communities. Shortly after that, places of worship started to be attacked and torn down.
Some religions had become despondent, accepted their fate and faded out. Some die-hard fundamentalists tried to hold on to their faith, but they became outcasts very quickly, scorned by their fellow man. They took to street corners, shouting and waving their signs, until they were physically removed by police for causing a disturbance.
Most people who had lived by a religion before the breakdown continued to believe. Their faith could not be shaken by something so horrid. If anything, their beliefs became stronger in the face of such adversity, but now it was something they had to keep quiet, hidden behind closed doors in the secret of their own homes. And without places for the devout to gather, it became difficult to recruit new followers, to nurture the young in the ways of the faith. With the avalanche of negative propaganda in the media, the younger generations naturally steered away from faith.
Gradually, the influence of religion began to die away, and with it, the number of believers.
The Catholic church had refused to wither away into nothingness and had changed from peaceful to indignant. Even now, three years after the decimation of the Vatican, religion was still a frightening concept. People avoided mention of the Catholics now and they slipped from the public eyes, seemingly forgotten. There were occasional murmurs of an uprising here, a terrorist plot there, but they were mostly dismissed as hearsay.
Raven edged away from the praying people and headed over to a table with a pile of leaflets. He picked one up and began to read.
“The Phoenix Project is currently in its eleventh month of a one year trial period at Salverford Penitentiary, following the successful implementation of the project at West Belsen prison. Intended to rid the world of terrorists and violent offenders, the Phoenix Project pits prisoners against each other, which has freed up a significant amount of space in prisons nationwide. The government is hailing the project as an enormous success, a breakthrough in justice and crime prevention. But what is the truth behind the Phoenix Project? So far, at Salverford there have been twenty-seven deaths. Nineteen men and eight women have died at the hands of fellow inmates in a crude boxing ring set up in an amphitheatre deep within the prison. How long will this continue? This September the government will hold a vote for the public to decide on the continuation of the Phoenix Project. If you feel the inhumanity as we do, join us outside Parliament for the Anti-Phoenix Project rally on September eighteenth and use your vote wisely on the nineteenth. Vote ‘no’ to the Phoenix Project.”
Raven wandered on and came to a small stage, set out at the front of the grassy area directly opposite the Houses of Parliament. Here a young woman was shouting passionately through a megaphone.
“What type of animals are we? I mean, come on, justice is one thing. Retribution? That’s fine, but the Phoenix Project isn’t either of these things—it’s evil. We all hate crime, we’re all afraid of terrorists, but this brutality is not the answer. I would like nothing more than to see criminals hang, to see the revival of good old capital punishment. An eye for an eye—that’s fair. But what we’re doing here is encouraging more violence. Did you know that they are now introducing television cameras into Salverford to film the fights? They are seriously considering broadcasting it to the public. This isn’t the time of gladiators and public execution. How long will it be before the public is following this butchery and cheering along to the deaths of their fellow man? It’s disgusting. We cannot allow this. So I am urging everybody to vote ‘no’ to Phoenix before it’s too late.”
The crowd burst into applause. Raven, invigorated by her zealous display, clapped and cheered along with them. He watched her as she walked to the front of the stage and shook hands with people in the audience, all the time flashing them a charming smile.
He was still clapping when he heard angry voices from across the gathering. He saw them approaching: a gang of around twenty men, marching towards the protesters. It only took one look at their livid faces to know who they were.
Title: The Phoenix Project
Author: D.M. Cain
Genre: Psychological Thriller
A thought provoking and compelling dystopian world that will change the way you view justice…
A man fights for life—and redemption—in D. M. Cain’s riveting new novel, The Phoenix Project.
Britain has descended into chaos as violence and terrorist attacks seethe across this once-peaceful country. Outraged by the steady stream of lawlessness, citizens demand a harsher penal system, and the Phoenix Project is born.
In prisons across the country, inmates fight to the death in a weekly bloodbath while the nation cheers them on.
Raven Kennedy, a prisoner who has never forgiven himself for his unspeakable crime, struggles against his own guilt and self-loathing. But even as the real war wages on within himself, Raven is forced to battle some of the prison’s most ruthless killing machines. Can he survive long enough to unravel the anger and regret that shackle him—and one day find the forgiveness he seeks?
‘The Phoenix Project by D.M. Cain is a superbly written debut, soaked in tension and intrigue,’ Jack Croxall, author of the ‘Tethers’ trilogy.
D.M. Cain is a dystopian and fantasy author working for US publisher Booktrope. She has released three novels: The Phoenix Project – a psychological thriller set in a dystopian future, Soren – a middle-grade fantasy, and A Chronicle of Chaos – the first in a dark fantasy series. She is currently working on the next novel in the series, ‘The Shield of Soren’, and a novella to accompany it.
D.M. Cain is also a member of the International Thriller Writers and is one of the creators and administrators of the online author group #Awethors. Her short story ‘The End’ was published in Awethology Dark – an anthology by the #Awethors.
Cain lives in Leicestershire, UK, with her husband and young son, and spends her time reading, writing and reviewing books, playing RPGs and listening to symphonic metal.
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